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  • Writer's pictureAshley Gray

10 Things I think- Faith Jump or Dumpster Fire

Hey, it’s been a while. I’ve thought of you often. Written a whole lot since we last spoke but just didn’t feel very motivated to share it yet. I feel a little bit like Langston Hughes when he said, “Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.” Lately, life has been incredibly hard. Where to start?

Ah. Let’s start here.

So… ummm…. I started a new job and ummm… I, then, quit that new job. There’s too much to process about all the traumatic factors leading to that decision. But I’ll share this- I left for me. The older I get and the more I’m honest and clear about where my values align, the easier it is for me to leave people and things that don’t fit. But I left with me and frankly, I’m pretty damn proud of that. And that’s more than enough reason for you to leave things that don’t align with your values. So… that was a long intro but here goes- I'm somewhere between a faith jump and a dumpster fire).

  1. I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago about my research on Black women college presidents. In that conversation emerged a thread about Black women working in overwhelmingly exhausting and/or abusive spaces. I heard it escape from my mouth that Black women should feel empowered to leave when they get that internal tug to go. I likely said something like we deserved to work and serve in healthy spaces. It’s interesting how when you are operating in your lane, the message while coming from you, may be also for you. It was literally like that moment in the movies where the world stops. I couldn’t escape it. I knew that message was meant for me as much as it was meant for other Black women in the space. And I had to go but how though?

  2. I realized in all the research and practice work I had done with and for Black women that I had not considered myself also worthy of the goodness I encouraged us to seek. Damn, when did I get to the bottom of my list? My PhD program certainly hadn’t been an easy experience and it had informed a lot of my worth. And to be clear, I deserved better than that experience, too. But somewhere along the way, I lost me as a priority. Perhaps she was somewhere on a proverbial front porch with her weekend bags packed and I didn’t show up. Or perhaps it was the years of internalizing unkept promises and perhaps unfair expectations of what someone was supposed to be for me. Either way, I lost myself.

  3. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who I am and who I am becoming. I’m becoming someone that lives and acts according to my values. [And I’m learning that other folks may not necessarily be awful, we just don’t have the same value system. Like perhaps your friend who didn’t show up in a time of need isn’t inherently bad but had different values and priorities.] I wrote this when I was still in a space of protecting abusive behavior and action. I've since updated to reflect the truth. Truth is there are some awfully mean spirited folks in this world. There are folks that do harm and rarely ever see consequences. And I'm not sure they ever will. I've got to care less about that than telling the truth. And while this ain't my first rodeo, I'm making it my last. My career deserves to be associated with growth and challenge but not abuse, racism and harm.

  4. So I mustered up the courage to write a letter of resignation. I proofread it nothing short of 25 times because even when Black folks have had enough- the language we use may have consequences. I’ve spent the last few years between estimating those consequences and chipping away at my give-a-damn in response to those. But anywho… I write the letter and hit send and then literally close my computer for the day. I wasn’t ready to process with anyone else. And so I made myself busy with other things. I reminded myself that a healthy work environment is a basic right. I reminded myself that I am worthy. And I gave myself permission to disassociate work and abuse.

  5. Let me run that back- I chose to disassociate work with abuse. My professional career has been hard. I’m not saying higher ed is filled with bad people but I am saying higher education is incredibly low on the accountability of harm. So it’s an easy place for bad people and a culture of fear to keep you silent. And retaliation from speaking out is real. But back to the story… y’all I’ve submitted the letter of resignation and I can’t take it back now. And you know what happened immediately- fear.

  6. I just quit my job and I don’t have another one lined up. How do I feed myself? I live in DC- y’all know the rent is high as hell. I’m not a trust fund kid. What if my car breaks down? What if I fail? That one resonated the most. I know how to live through financial scarcity, failure- that’s just too far. I had enough fears to fuel the falls in Niagara. Truthfully, they’re not all gone. They creep up. They whisper after moments of peace. I just recognize and fight them better.

  7. And I'm actively trying to heal in the midst of all this. Because after all, I just went through something awful. That's been hard for me because healing hurts sometimes more than the injury. I guess I got used to being hurt but healing- woooo child. It's not linear, it's heavy some days, it's painful and it's unclear on when you're done. Perhaps we're never done healing but everyday it's getting better? IDK. But it's been hard to talk about it without going back to the ugly place I was in. How ugly did it get? When panic attacks are lighter alternative- you know it's bad.

  8. I’m grateful for a village that has evolved enough to say leave. You know Black folks who have living elders have to call their folks for advice. Me: Momma, these folks got me stressed. I’m not sleeping. I’m up all night. I’m miserable. My sisters: *a few expletives and protective statements*. My Momma: You have options, use them. All I needed was that green light. A little encouragement can literally save someone’s life.

  9. Folks talk metaphorically about chasing dreams but often forget to tell you how scary it was to take the leap. How they doubted the process. How they gave up then checked back in. I fully know that God has me. I also know I haven’t been promised a life without struggle. I was, however, promised that it would work for my good. So, I’m letting God be God and I’m dreaming lots. I mean- really vivid dreams too. Last night, I woke myself up because I was laughing so hard in my sleep. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced some joy in my rest. But, I’m happy to feel reconnected to the giver of dreams.

  10. And you should know I’m doing it scared. I have long had the vision of doing research, practice and more in an equitable space. So, I’m going out on my own for a while. And I trust that I was led here for a purpose. Clearly something bigger than me because I like when other folks pay for my health insurance.

  11. Some of your are reading this asking, "What can I do?" I’m asking for your prayers, encouragement and goodness. I'm asking that you mention my name [positively] in spaces I'm not in. And most of all- in your prayers. I’m also asking you to leave abusive spaces because you deserve better.

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